paul bourke, associate professor at the university of western australia, scours google earth looking for fractal patterns, or self similarity, in the rivers systems, mountains ranges and deserts of the planet. in nature, self similarity doesn’t exist ad infinitum, as with a mandlebrot set, but branching structures are found across two, three, even four scales. paul invites people to submit their finds own to his site, which links to the pictures shown here on google earth (click pics for the country)
“I’ve heard everything between 1500 to 3000 years as an age estimate for the largest welwitschias,” says Sussman about these strange plants. She photographed this example – probably around 2000 years old – in the Naukluft desert in Namibia.
“The welwitschias are strange and unique” she says. “Surprisingly enough, they’re part of the conifer family and live only in the very specific climate along the coast of Namibia and Angola where coastal fog and desert meet.”
To capture moisture from sea fog, the welwitschia, also known as tree tumbo, has evolved special leaves. These leaves become tattered and frayed with time – earning the plant the description of being “octopus-like”. In addition, it has long tap roots that sip water deep underground and anchor the plant as it is buffeted by desert winds.
Its unusual appearance caused Friedrich Welwitsch, the botanist who discovered it for science in 1859, to “do nothing but kneel down and gaze at it, half in fear lest a touch should prove it a figment of the imagination”.